Burning Flags Press The website of Glen E. Friedman. Renowned for both his work with musicians like Fugazi, Minor Threat, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Slayer (and many, many more) as well as his groundbreaking documentation of the burgeoning skateboard phenomenon in the late `70's, Glen has been privvy to (and has summarily captured on film) some of the coolest stuff ever. He's also an incredibly insightful and nice guy to boot.
SoHo Blues - Photography by Allan Tannenbaum Allan Tannenbaum is a local photographer who has been everywhere and shot everything, from members of Blondie hanging out at the Mudd Club through the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th. You could spend hours on this site, and I have.
Robert Otter Photographs Amazing vintage photographs of New York City, specifically my own neighborhood, Greenwich Village.
oboylephoto Just some intensely cool photographs of abandoned places.
The Weblog of Spumco's John K. The weblog of cartoonist John Kricfalusi, crazed mind and frantic pencil behind the original "Ren & Stimpy," as well as "The Goddamn George Liquor Show." Surreal, unapologetic, uncompromising genius.
Way back in February, I put up a little post about a dimly remembered neighborhood artifact, that being the dinosaur that used to stand atop what is now Continental (then Continental Divide) on Third Avenue at St. Marks Place. I remembered it as being a free-standing sculpture of a brontosaurus, but didn't hold out a great deal of hope that anyone would have a photo of it.
Just last week, however, photographer Susan Fensten (whose work you might remember from this post) posted a photo of her father John Fensten's from the 1980's on Facebook It might be a little hard to make out, but this is a shot of Third Avenue at St. Marks Place. From right to left, that Optimo is now The E Smoke Shop. That pizza parlor (boy do I miss that) became a Chickpea then back to a pizza place and is now a diner-y spot called Archie & Sons (which is supposedly not bad, or so I've been told). To the left of that is Continental Divide. You can make out the brontosaurus on the signage, although I want to say there was one on the actual roof as well. Anyway, this is close as I'm probably going to get.
To the left of that is a joint called Dynasty. That's a McDonald's today. Does anyone remember Dynasty?
I've waxed nostalgic about the old Marquee club at 547 West 21st street a coupleof timeshere. It wasn't even there that long (maybe three years? maybe?), but it was somewhat of a crucial venue for me at the time.
Located way the hell over on the very western edge of Chelsea, it had virtually no neighbors during its tenure apart from a gay bondage club across the street called Zone DK. This was all the early 90's, you realize --- well prior to the advent Chelsea Piers, Giuliani's quality of life campaign, 9/11, the High Line and Bloomberg's era of hyper-gentrification.
In its incarnation as the Marquee, I was lucky enough to catch several live shows at 547 West 21st street. I'm sure I've listed them here before, but if memory serves, bands I saw play at the Marquee included Too Much Joy, Pylon, The Wonder Stuff, the La's, My Dad is Dead, The Wedding Present, the Milltown Brothers, the Butthole Surfers, the Rollins Band, the Lunachicks, Primus, 24-7 Spyz, Fatima Mansions, Julian Cope, the Kitchens of Distinction, Lush, Ride, Curve, Chapterhouse, The House of Love, Swervedriver, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Blur, Senseless Things, Pigface, Limbomaniacs, The Sundays, The Charlatans, Mr. Bungle, Birdland and Pop Will East Itself. Actually, the very first time I ever set foot in the place, it was still called Sonic, and I was there to see a little known band (at the time) called Nine Inch Nails.
For whatever reason, the Marquee closed sometime in the almost-mid-90's and morphed into a Latino dance club called El Flamingo --- `cos, ya know, we needed another one of those. For the remainder of the 90's, if I'm not mistaken, El Flamingo played host to a discofied re-imagining of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" called "The Donkey Show." Suffice to say, I never went.
Anyway, I addressed all of this in earlier posts. Back in 2012, I walked back over to that end of West 21st street with my little boy Oliver and snapped a picture of its incarnation as a comparatively whisper-quiet art gallery.
Well, earlier this week, I had a little time on my hands while strolling through Chelsea and once again found myself walking west on 21st street, the sounds of countless 90's bands like those listed above filling my head. As I approached, however, that elusive "sense of place" I've spoken about before was pretty much all gone, ..... as was the building that once housed that art gallery, El Flamingo and before it...The Marquee.
Already looming high above West 21st Street is a brand new development where 547 (and the building to its west) used to stand. It certainly doesn't look that impressive now, but 551 West 21 bills itself as "sharp and crisp and as subtle, luminous and dramatic as a perfectly cut diamond" and "like a villa in the sky."
Where once this street was defined by its quiet desolation, it will now be (yet another) buzzing hive of affluents. Who can afford to live in these places?
Anyway, I doubt I'll find myself taking any more nostalgic walks down West 21st street ever again. As such, here's another taste of the past. I was actually at this show. Here's the Lunachicks at the Marquee in November of 1990....
Don't panic .... Yaffa Cafe isn't going anywhere (or at least I don't think it is).
Back in the late 80's and into the 90's, I was something of a regular patron within the sparkly confines of this venerable St. Marks Place establishment. A good friend of mine dated a Yaffa Cafe waitress for a while. It was strategically located as a great staging point for various downtown missions. Alone with Sin-E down the street (long gone), it anchored its storied little strip of East Village quite nicely.
I stopped going at some point. The last time I was there may have been in 1993, when the Yaffa Cafe served as the location of my interview with all four members of Blur. This was just a little prior to their stardom-courting days of feuding with Oasis. I don't think I've set foot in the place since, sadly.
In any case, while walking by it yesterday, both of my kids couldn't help commenting on the Yaffa's signature mural, so I stopped and took the picture above ... instructing them to mimic it. An elderly gentleman sitting nearby smiled and noted that the mural in question was thirty years old. Unlike the comparatively recent Joe Strummer mural a block and a half to the east, it refreshingly hasn't been touched up, but nor has it been messed with. Long may she scream.
Anyway, I'm hoping to jump-start a new meme: #Yaffing.
This also dates back to the same herculean trek around Manhattan from a few weeks back that spawned the photos in this post and that post. I don't have a lot of fond associations with the New York Criminal Court buildings along Center Street, but I can't seem to walk by them without thinking back to the video for "Kool Thing" by Sonic Youth, .... which in itself is odd, as it's never been a particular favorite of mine.
"Kool Thing" found Kim Gordon taking the mic for the first single off of Sonic Youth's indie-heresy-baiting big label debut Goo in 1990. Having been lured in a few years earlier via the pointedly discordant and vaguely disturbing Bad Moon Rising (my freshman year roommate in college had to leave the room whenever I chose to play "Death Valley `69," which, suffice to say, was often), I counted myself as a Sonic Youth fan, but as they gradually edged to the center and away from the purposely weird, I found myself losing enthusiasm.
I actually got to interview the whole band on the eve of Goo's release for a tiny indie record rag I was working for at the time, The New York Review of Records, in the incongruously plush offices of Geffen Records (in a very corporate conference room with a crudite platter). They hadn't quite become an especially big deal (nor had they introduced the wider world to Nirvana as yet), so it didn't seem like that huge an event. As such, they were all perfectly cool and amiable -- apart from Kim, of course. She wasn't unfriendly, per se, but she was a long way from being what you might call chatty. That all said, she seemed to embody everything that was cool about the band.
Anyway, blah blah blah...ancient history. Goo came out and helped kickstart the "alt.rock" boom of the 90's, I suppose, paving the way for diluted knock-off acts and ersatz grunge-lite records until the resurgence of rinkydink boy-band teen pop put a stop to all that. Seems almost quaint to think about now.
While I didn't think "Kool Thing" was an especially great single at the time (despite a fleeting contribution from Public Enemy's Chuck D.), the video had a suitably artful NYC vibe -- although if memory serves, Kim Gordon's gone on record saying that filming the video in front of the Criminal Court Buildings was one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life....and catered, at that. In retrospect (see below), the clip has held up pretty well.
If I'm gong to keep doing this, I've got to get out there earlier, lest I face the probability of having to share the path with my fellow runner: inevitably a dewy, young Amazonian with perfectly toned, rippling musculature, loping with the grace of a thoroughbred as I trot breathlessly behind like a mule with leprosy.
Today was my third morning of running and hoo boy am I feeling it. That said, in the next two days, my family has a memorial service and a burial to get through, so this morning was my final opportunity to get in a early slog around the park. As such, I fought through the ache in my thighs and gave it another go.
My thighs are killing me, most evidently when I walk down a flight of stairs. I want to think, however, that it's a "good pain," i.e. the pain of muscles that haven't felt any meaningful exertion in a while. I'm starting to take the notion of stretching a bit more seriously, but still don't really know if I'm stretching for long-enough increments or even doing the right stretches, ... but I think I am.
I'm still not bringing the iPod. I'm sure music would help me zone out and not think as much about the impact of each step on my jostled, angry entrails, but it's just one more thing to carry. I kinda like the freedom of just wearing sneaks, jogging shorts and a t-shirt . Once you introduce gadgets into the mix, it gets more complicated. I also kinda like experiencing the sounds of the morning.... that is until I hear what my comrade Jeremiah Moss tellingly refers to as the "world of vocal-frying dumb talk" that downtown has become.
I still associate Washington Square Park with my downtown, however. As I start my lap on Washington Square North, I think of all the old record shops that used to be one block over on West 8th Street, like the original Venus Records and It's Only Rock'n'Roll. When I'm trotting down Washington Square West, I think of Bleecker Bob's, 99 Records and Route 66. When I'm trudging to the east on Washington Square South, I think of Second Coming Records on Sullivan Street and Tower Records on 4th and Broadway. All those places are gone now, of course, replaced by frozen yogurt joints, pharmacy chains and banks.
By the time I'm approaching the end of my lap on Washington Square East -- when I pass by those huge photographs of Cheetah Chrome and Stiv Bator, leftover from a gallery exhibit back in May about antiquated NYC nightlife -- I'm snapping back into the present. I downshift into what I've started calling "the wobble," a second lap around the park in a brisk walk. I'm looking to turn that into a second full lap of running, but ..... one step at a time (literally).
Seems weird to be ringing in this blog's birthday after having gone dark for two months, but ya can't argue with the calendar. `Twas nine years ago today that I started typing slavishly overwritten and grammatically dubious entries here -- initially solely for the purposes of irritating a co-worker who'd started his own blog (which, I believe, he's long-since abandoned). Nine years later, I'm (more or less) still at it.
As expressed elsewhere here, I'm continually amazed that anyone turns up to read this stuff, let alone comes back or leaves a comment. There are wide swathes of this blog that continue to make me cringe, but it's here -- warts and all. I wish I'd come up with a better name than Flaming Pablum, but it's kinda too late now.
I'm not fat, per se (nor have I ever really been), but I'm Hell and gone from anything you could credibly describe as fit. While my wife scrupulously feeds our family a robustly healthy mix of stuff, I still find myself eating a ton of crap, and I drink entirely too much beer -- and will pointedly NEVER drink a "lite" beer. These summer days, I'm spending a lot more time with my kids, which means ice cream almost every day -- and I partake as well. This is not a sound plan.
I'm also at something of a crossroads. It's been a bumpy year (to put it very mildly), and I'm under a lot of pressure. I'm looking to focus. I'm looking to streamline. Not to sound too much like Travis Bickle, but I need to get organized.
So, given my penchant for excess, the threat of encroaching girth, the spread of silver across my scalp and various other worrying factors, I started ruminating about the concept of taking up running.
I walk absolutely everywhere, but that's just not high impact enough. If I'm going to fine-tune, I've got to do something more.
Back in the 90's and into the 2000's, both the wife and I had gym memberships, but Charlotte's arrival in 2004 put a stop to all that. A decade later, I simply don't have the time --- to say nothing of the money -- for a gym.
So, last night, after crowd-sourcing some feedback from my friends on Facebook, I set my alarm for 7 a.m., with the intention of going for a run.
When the alarm started chiming this morning, I cannot say that I was exactly rarin' to go. I ended up lollygagging for another fifteen minutes before getting up and slipping on a pair of black Nike running shorts that I probably haven't worn since forsaking my Crunch membership circa 2004. Next came a pair of short white socks and my ancient-but-still-sturdy pair of New Balance running shoes, which I haven't worn since my last championship game pitching for TIME Magazine's softball team in 2005. Slipping on a white Motorhead shirt (`cos ya know..... gotta be me), my ensemble was complete. It was time to do this.
I decided to forego the iPod. As much as my life is basically ruled by music, I thought this return voyage into the long-dormant realm of my physical fitness should come with as little distraction as possible. Still feeling somewhat ridiculous in my running attire, I slipped out the door and off I went.
I stood on the northeast corner of Washington Square Park and looked west. It still being relatively early, the byways were largely clear of pedestrians or lamentable NYU students (is there any other kind? I kid, I kid). The only other people out were seemingly dog-walkers and members of that elite fellowship I was seeking to join: runners.
I figured I should stretch, but -- honestly -- I didn't really know what stretch to do. I did some stupefyingly rudimentary stretch-approximations for about ten seconds each (this will invariably come back to haunt me this afternoon), and off I went....
I started off at a slow trot. I'm not doing this to break any records or enter any half-decathlons. By the time I reached the Washington Square Arch at the mouth of Fifth Avenue, I was surprised how simple it felt. Though they hadn't hit the pavement in some time, my New Balance kicks were still providing me with a sufficient amount of spring with each step. I was literally off and running.
As I rounded the corner onto Washington Square Park West (a.k.a. MacDougal Street), however, I started to feel it. With each step, I felt the impact. I felt it in my knees. I felt it in my sternum. I felt it in my lamentably curvaceous torso. Each pounding foot on the pavement came with an innard-worrying jolt. I felt my ponderous 185 pounds in each stride. My body was starting to wake up and evidently wasn't fully on-board with my plan.
I didn't want to pause, though. If I could just make a single, complete, unbroken lap of running -- even at this comparatively unhurried pace -- I would consider it a good start. Other people can do it without pausing. Why couldn't I?
Rounding the corner onto the south side of the park (Washgington Square Park South, a.k.a. West 4th Street), I suddenly flashed back to the summer of 1980 at Great Oaks, a sleepaway camp I was sent to in Oxford, Maine. Myself and the other campers were huddled on a dock that extended onto a black, ice cold lake. Our task was to dive into the water, swim to the bottom and grasp a bit of sand or dirt. When we swam back up and broke the surface, we were to vault our hand up and display said dirt, demonstrating that we'd successfully made it to the bottom. When my turn came, I jumped into that forbidding black water, but couldn't seem to successfully propel myself downward. I flailed and fought the disorientation, but I couldn't -- or wouldn't -- make it to the floor of that lake. I gave up too soon and broke the surface with a dramatic gasp, my hands uncontaminated by sand or dirt. "That's going to be a problem, Mr. Smith," said our incongruously portly councilor. I felt ashamed. 34 years later, I still do.
Melodramatic? Maybe, but I wasn't going to give up like that ever again. I was going to complete this full loop without stopping.
By this point, my breath had settled into a nice rhythm, punctuated by an emphatic exhale on every fifth step. As I rounded the last corner onto Washington Square East (which turns into University Place), I felt confident. I was going to make it without stopping.
I'm sure there are droves of you reading this (I should be so lucky to get "droves" of readers) who think this is ridiculously laughable. If my statistics are correct, the perimeter of Washington Square Park only equals half of a mile. If I can't run a half-mile without stopping, how can I face myself?
Well, that's just it. That's why I'm starting this.
I made it back to the spot I started from and yanked back the throttle into a wobbly walk. I'd completed my first run around the park, and was now feeling it all over, especially in my legs. While I was hardly in a dewy glow of a victorious marathoner, I felt a slight twinge of accomplishment. Sure, it's not much, but it's a start.
When Joey Ramone succumbed to cancer back in 2001, I was still working at TIME Magazine as a news desk editor. At the story meeting that morning, editors sat around the big conference table bandying ideas around as to who the magazine should reach out to for the purposes of penning a eulogy. A few chimed in suggesting "Johnny Rotten," the erstwhile Sex Pistol's infamously thorny persona still being the go-to name for all things punk rock. Rarely did I speak up in these meetings, being that I was a comparatively lower-ranking member of the team, but here was a subject I warmed to, to say the least. Knowing that John Lydon has never had anything even remotely positive to say about the contributions of the Ramones, I jumped into the conversation. You can read the rest of that saga here.
Thirteen years later, we've just lost the last original member of the Ramones to cancer. In typical fashion, the media are still getting their facts wrong. Reports seem split on whether he was 62 or 65. One network news program prefaced their report of Tommy (Erdelyi) Ramone's death with a snippet from the video for "I Wanna Be Sedated," taken from Road to Ruin ... an album Tommy did not play on. Minor quibbles, maybe, but c'mon ... get it right.
I actually had the privilege of working with Legs in the summer of 1989 when I interned at SPIN (you can read that sepia-toned epic poem here). He could be alternately rude, hilarious, cantankerous, thoughtful, abusive, somber, inspired and tirelessly inappropriate, but he was never, ever boring. Legs' eulogy to his fallen friend has a sobering finality to it, and might just be the only piece on Tommy Ramone's death you need to read.
The only other piece I've read about Tommy Ramone's death that struck a chord with me was from the Daily Mash (sort of Britain's answer to The Onion). The headline pretty much sums it up: 99 per cent of Ramones t-shirt owners not upset.
As I mentioned with great, rude aplomb on this post from 2012, I've never given the slightest crap about Billy Joel. Yes, I realize he's NYC to the bone and all that (witness local classic rock radio's tireless insistence on wheeling out "It's Still Rock 'n' Roll To Me," "Captain Jack" and -- god help us all -- "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" at every conceivable opportunity), but seriously -- enough already. I mean, I don't wish the man ill or anything (well, not really), but I've just never really enjoyed his music (see also Springsteen, but that's a hellfire-tempting post for another day).
In any case, a comrade of mine on the NYC-blogging front, the disarmingly astute Bob Egan of PopSpots, apparently is quite a fan of Mr. Joel's. Good sport that he is, Egan overlooks my fandom for bands he probably can't stand like SWANS, the Cro-Mags and the Plasmatics, and regularly shares information with me.
Back on that earlier post, I linked back to a typically sprawling post of Bob's which pinpointed several key album cover locations from Billy Joel. Even if you (rightly) don't think much of the Piano Man, it makes for fascinating reading.
Anyway, there is one specific spot I pass by on a semi-regular basis that I did know had a special relevance to hapless Billy Joel fans like dear Bob. When I was out on that afore-cited marathon trek around Lower Manhattan a couple of weeks back with my intrepid little kindernauts, we passed through SoHo and by a specifc stoop on Mercer Street between Houston and Prince. To walk by it now, you'd probably never give it a second thought. But to someone with a head swimming with utterly useless rock-dork trivia, I couldn't resist paying some cheeky homage to the former Mr. Christie Brinkley.